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Gas tax, registration revenues plummet during pandemic

roads

MADISON (WKOW) -- During a year that saw many Wisconsinites work mainly from home and do most of their shopping online, the state collected $116 million less in gas tax and vehicle registration revenue.

The new data comes from a report released Friday by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The study found Wisconsin's motor fuel tax revenue decreased by $62.1 million in 2020 compared to 2019. For vehicle registration fees, the decrease was also marked at $54.2 million.

In a larger context, the drop is far from apocalyptic given the transportation fund still took in more than $2 billion in revenue during the last fiscal year.

Any revenue hits the state takes in the short-term would largely be offset by federal relief money. The study cited a December estimate from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that Wisconsin would receive $188 million.

However, the study's authors noted the findings raise long-term questions about transportation revenue shortfalls should a large share of the public continue working and meeting remotely once the pandemic ends.

The transportation revenue situation adds another layer onto what already shapes up to be contentious budget fight among Wisconsin's divided government.

Even when Republicans had full control of the Capitol, the question of how to fund the state's transportation budget led to sharp disagreements over whether to increase the motor fuel tax.

It's a question that won't go away any time soon as the study noted the gas tax and registration fees are the top two sources of Wisconsin's transportation fund.

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